Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thinking on Thanks

I am thankful...for the decades of memories I got to share with my mom. Some bad, some good, but all woven into the threads that bound us together. Family is a complicated beast, and Lord knows our relationship was a complex one. But at the end of the day, there were more hugs than shouts. 

I am thankful...for the countless miles traveled in the RAV4, for the late-night trips with the windows down keeping me awake, for the journeys with both my boys, for the Christmas trees strapped with salty language to the roof, for the safety and comfort it brought.

I am thankful...for the opportunities granted to me - unlicensed and unordained - by New Hope, to stand and speak my heart. I found a passion that I never knew existed, hidden under what I thought was my desire. The smiles, laughs, and open hearts allowing me to be me have left an indelible mark of joy.

I am thankful...for those who have taken my words and gotten something from them. For those who saw something in my scribbles and tangents and felt them better than I gave them credit for and deserving of a wider audience: Ashley. Lindsey. Adam (the man). Scott. Darrell. Alise. Your faith gave me courage to keep writing. And though the volume of my writing was lessened this year, the fire has not died.

I am thankful...to the craft beer community here in Columbia (and beyond), for amazing days and nights of laugh-filled memories, tastes of rare delights I never knew existed, and for letting me find friendships I didn't think possible. Shawn (always first). Julian. Travis. Nick. Wes. Joseph. Matt. Matthew. Ashley. Josh. Tyler. Ben. Andrew. I raise a full heart to you all.

I am thankful...for the decades/lifetime of memories contained within four-color theaters of imagination. Our journey is nearing its completion, and my closets will be emptier without you, but your contribution to my intellect, creativity, and personality will live on.

I am thankful...for Kai. For half a decade of teaching me to be a better person. For letting me understand what love feels like. For letting me be a part of you as you grow, learn, and take the world on.

I am thankful...for Eli. For endless dances, for laughter and smiles that make me heart so full it feels as if it will burst apart. For redemptive parenting. For holding my hand as you sleep and as you lead me on journeys where we will go together.

I am thankful...for Ashley. For without whom I could not breathe. For without whom, my life would have been a series of events devoid of meaning and depth. For the laughs, the fights (good and bad), the ways you tolerate, love, and help me to grow into myself.

I'm just thankful. For that next cup of coffee in the morning, because that means a new morning has come.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Palindromic, Tribonacci, Happy Number Birthday

I see you over there, calendar. Littered with hash marks, ticking off the days. In what feels like the blink of an eye, another year will be here.

The years that have preceded you have each come with their own little earthquakes. Really. From 18 until now, I can look back and see one - if not more - major seismic shifts that hit with annual regularity. Some good, some heartbreaking, some pushes in the right direction, some free falls off a cliff.

Each year a mile marker on this journey of life. The ones at the start are still somewhat pristine, their innocence never having weathered a major storm and becoming tarnished. The ones that lie directly behind me, however, have chips, scratches, and show the sign of having stood in the midst of chaos for a year.

They all have strong roots. That's why they - and I - have never fallen. They are planted firmly in the ground.

My journey has taken me to this point where there are an equal number of miles to go that lie before me as what lie behind me, if not with the possibility of less before me than behind. And that's okay. It's not scary. It's a challenge to take those remaining miles and make of them something amazing. Something spectacular, to be found in the mundane every day rituals of life.

Every smile needs to count. Every moment of choosing peace over frustration or anger needs to count. Every moment when I have the chance to play on the floor with my family needs to count. Every quiet moment on the couch at night needs to count. Every meal I fix with a flourish, ignoring recipes and directions, needs to count. Every leaf I see falling, every sunrise and sunset I view, every breeze of wind that stirs the ground before me needs to count.

Every beer I enjoy. Every word I write. Every sentence I utter. These should count only if with friends and family who count. They should not be for my glory, but for my community.

Forty-four isn't a scary age. Trying to mentally see that many candles on a cake is, but that's why I like cupcakes.

Each one counts. Each one is unique, each one is to be tasted separately.

Like every day in life.

So raise a pint with me. Raise a mug of coffee with me. Raise your eyes. Raise your heart.

And count.

Everything.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

You're There, Right?

Every night, as I read Kai to sleep, I always ask him to get in his "sleep position:" laying still, eyes closed, and snuggled under the covers. When I read him a book with pictures in it, I always promise him that I'll read the words first, and then he look to see the pictures after I finish each page. But if I read a book with little to no pictures, he is theoretically supposed to lie there, peaceful and still, until he drifts off. But even though he can hear the sound of my voice not two feet away from him, he will on occasion open his eyes as I am reading to him.

It's as if he needs to check and see if I have left him.

"You're there, right?"

Eli has no fear. As a toddler, he is invincible, immortal, and has no understanding of how that as he propels his tiny frame like a wobbly rocket, he could easily lose his sense of balance and face plant. He gathers sticks bigger than he is with reckless joy. He tries to climb ladders, chairs, and out of his crib with a surety that he's got this. The only thing that stymies him is his mortal enemy: the stair. It cracks me up that he can be running at full speed, and as soon as he hits a stair - be it to go up or down - he stops, and without even looking behind him, sticks his hand up in the air for me.

It's as if he knows I've been with him this whole time, and he has faith I'm going to be right there next to him to help lift him up. 

"You're there, right?"

As my child-like faith gave way to the cynicism of my 20s and early 30s, I stopped looking around and holding my hands up. I felt like the Voice had been silenced and the Presence was no longer there - if it ever had been there in the first place. It is only now, after struggles, stumbles, and ending my attempt to be someone I'm not supposed to be, that I know. I know that the Voice I thought muted was only drowned out by my screams. I know that if I had raised my hand to grasp a Presence, that I would have swatted it away anyway, thinking I could do this on my own.

Now I know. That even when I don't hear a Voice, it's there anyway.

Now I know. That even when I don't feel a Presence, it's there anyway.

And that when I ask, it is less a question of doubt or needing reassurance than it is a simple checking in with a Friend Who is listening to and watching me.

"You're there, right?"

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

The Eyes Have It (Part Two)

(Click here for Part One, written about two years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same...)

Now having been a stay-at-home dad for two kids/five-plus years at this point, I'm fairly certain I have worked out what one of my favorite parts about being with my kids 24/7 is.

No, it's not the wizardry of coming up with innumerable crafts/activities to engage them so that the television stays off all day. No, it's not my personal dress code of cargo shorts, shirts of questionable wrinkles, and an unshaved face. No, it's not learning to master the art of cutting raw chicken while a toddler plays around your feet (although I am pretty much a badass at that bit).

It's kneeling down, getting on their level with them, and seeing the world through their eyes.

Eli is just now starting to explore his world, and man. This kid has some beautiful eyes. So much so that I've started nicknaming him "Sparkles" when I play with him.

Because they sparkle all the time
.
They look up at me with wonder how I got so far up there when I'm standing up.

They radiate when I'm down on his level with him.

They squint when he laughs while climbing on me while I lay down on the floor.

They get wide when I say the words "food," "balloon," or "dinosaur."

They manage to go from active to droopy in .000052 seconds when nap time rolls around.

They get focused and piercing when he's upset.

They look at me like "You get this, right?" when he talks in baby talk to me.

They explode wildly open when he gets tickled.

They become calm when he is studying an object for the first time.

They stay perfectly still and unmoving when he meets someone for the first time.

They close with peace and serenity when he's laying in my arms asleep.

And his eyes help me. Not in the sense that they can reverse the prescription on my glasses (darn it), but they help me to look at the world in the way he does.

With hope. Love. Openness. Trust. Excitement.

And fun.

Now if you'll excuse me, we have a dinosaur hunt to go on.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Brewery or Church?

The imagery and language associated with it has become so ingrained into the mainstream culture that it is practically a part and parcel of Americana by now. As an institution, it rose to prominence in the 1950s, leaving us with the lingering vision of homogenized, Caucasian, middle-class, smiling faces who have a great time enjoying the experience with friends.  

If you grew up understanding the culture, you were likely born into it. What was your parents became yours. It was the norm. For decades, there was basically only one style to choose from. One version, although, there were variants of names and brands. But once you came of age, by and large you paid allegiance to what you were raised in.

Until.

It began as a grassroots movement. A few pioneers who felt their palates were left wanting after they drank what was told to them was the accepted style. So they broke away. They took the methodology used by the mainstream to refine, augment, and craft something wholly fresh and new, yet familiar.

The large, prominent keepers of the mainstream at first thought little of these upstarts. But then they began to gain footholds in more regions across the country, regions long thought too conservative for such a brash, bold change of venue. So the mainstream did what it could and felt it needed to: it tried to invalidate these new offerings by questioning quality control, as many of these leaders in the revolution were not trained in the proper schools or by the correct teachers; they said what these "kids" offered for you to partake of was not as good, not as true, as theirs; and they questioned that if what they offered for so long was that bad, how had it lasted in prominence for so long?

"Control and suppression," replied the upstarts as they continued their march.



Until.

These upstarts have in many ways become the norm. The mainstream still maintains dominance, but that dominance is eroding year by year. Because questions are good, healthy, and lead to understanding instead of group-think.

But.

What was once started in love has for some become business. A revolution of passionate creative zealots has become a lucrative money-making opportunity for many. Instead of mainstream culture, we now have a culture of mainstreamed independents, complete with conventions, paraphernalia, and sometimes less-than-friendly competition for attention. As someone plants or starts a new venue out of love and passion, someone else plants or starts a similar venue solely out of a desire to make a profit.

Those who have fled the mainstream to flock to the independents have left a gaping hole in some of the larger entities; not a mortal wound, but deep enough that it hurts them at the core of who and what they are.



Still.

Thousands still hold allegiance to the comparatively weaker in taste mainstream. It is massed produced, cheaply packaged from a centralized location - but it is familiar. And change can be scary and leave some with a bad taste on their tongue.

Still.

The passionate zealots pour out their heart and soul into a culture they see a need to pour into. To connect with the people who share their passion at a deeper, more personal level. To fill them with something wholesome and crafted with love.

Still.

The mainstream and the small stream have those who seek only to better themselves and line their pockets. They focus on numbers, the bottom line, and who can be the dominant force. If they crush someone smaller, so be it. If what they offer is ultimately left as ash on the tongue, so be it.

Brewery?

Church?

Or is there really a difference?

Let's have a drink and talk about it. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Life in the Day of a SAHD

When people find out I've been a stay-at-home dad for the past five-plus years, one of the questions I am routinely hit with is "What do you do all day?" So, allow me to pull back the curtains on the glory and majesty of at-home parenting. 

Please bear in mind that this is only a sample of ONE day, does not include such glorious activities as soccer practice, birthday parties, or play dates, is not reflective of what it's like when one or both kids are sick, and the times are approximate. The details, however, are quite factual.


1:12 am - Crap. Eli woke up. Crying again. Teething, growth spurt, his pillow isn't fluffy enough, the walls aren't the right shade of blue - who knows. Go into his room to soothe him. He starts to settle down. Rub his back. Sing to him.

1:14 am - where the **** is his pacifier?

2:04 am - finally quiet. Now to go back to bed.

2:04:10 am - ...stupid creaking floorboards. Sigh. Time to sing again.

2:42 am - there. Now to ninja myself back to my bedroom.

2:44 am - son of a...when did Kai get into my bed? Carry him back to his room. Lay down in my bed. Now. Back to sleep.

5:30 am - my eldest son, obviously a farmer in the making, is awake. Before the sun. Glorious.

6:00 am - coffee starts brewing. Thank God. Now to get vitamins and OJ for Kai, and prep Eli's milk so when he wakes up he can eat. Also need to warm up breakfast for everyone, pack Kai's lunch, and manage to do all this without making a noise so I won't wake Eli up.

6:30 am - well, Eli's awake. Change his diaper, then try and dress Kai before he eats breakfast.

7:00 am - Ashley is up, so she can watch the boys (aka get Kai to eat and not play at the table/try to go watch TV) while I take a shower.

7:25 am - time to get dressed. I've only worn these cargo shorts three times this week already. They're fine. Check shirt on the floor. Wore it yesterday, but nobody saw me. More or less unwrinkled, with no unknown food stains. It'll work.

7:45 am - get Kai, lunchbox, and coffee into car. Strap Eli in. Drive him to school.

8:30 am - time to start errands for the day. Going to need to go to grocery store/get gas/Target/drop books off at library/run to post office all while keeping Eli awake in the backseat. The car seems to lull him to sleep. He'll need to eat around 11:15 before his nap.

8:41 am - Eli flings his pacifier across the backseat as an act of civil disobedience against the injustice of car seat straps. 

8:50 - first stop: Target. Toilet paper a priority in errands today. Will sacrifice groceries if necessary, can fast if needed.

8:52 - Eli mildly and subtly expresses his displeasure at idea of being strapped into the buggy. Moderately certain he just bent his spine backwards at a 45 degree angle while screeching in rage.

9:07 am - speed-shopping at Target completed. May or may not have gotten everything on the list. More concerned if DSS was alerted to the sounds of an angry toddler upset over the fact I would not let him chew on an unopened box of cereal, pull clothes off the rack, or purchase a grill.

9:11 am - en route to the grocery store. Because I'm a sadist.

9:14 am - ...and the pacifier goes flying again. 

9:20 am - shopping at Publix. Eli will be distracted by the balloons tied everywhere. That, and the baggie of Cheerios I pull from my pocket.

9:55 am - shopping is done, time to pack groceries and baby into the car. House is only a few blocks away. Will sing and listen to CD on the way home to keep him awake.

10:03 am - pull into the driveway. ...crap. He's snoring.

10:05 am - put him in his crib, now to bring groceries in and put them away.

10:22 am - okay. Now I have a little free time. Need to edit that article, start laying out the other one due next week, do some journaling...

11:47 - ...wait, why is he crying...? OH CRAP, I JUST SPENT THAT WHOLE TIME ONLINE AND DIDN'T WRITE ANYTHING?

12:04 pm - fresh diaper, and now lunchtime.

12:09 pm - this loon is wearing as much food as he's eating. Kids and pasta, I swear.

12:20 pm - now to vacuum the floor where the casualties of lunch lie scattered on the ground. Might as well vacuum the living room and boys' rooms while I've got this out.

12:42 pm - time to start laundry. Then to unload the dishwasher and reload it with Mount Crustyplates from the sink.

1:00 pm - 2:15 pm - playtime in the living room. And his room. And outside. And Kai's room. And our bed. And in tents. And with bubbles. And with beach balls. And Duplos. And dinosaurs. And soccer balls. And coffee. And locate the MIA pacifier.

2:30 pm - pick up Kai from kindergarten. Go home and prepare snack time.

2:42 pm - snack time translates to Kai eating - under protest - the remaining 87% of the lunch I sent him to school with.

3:00 pm - 5:30 pm - playtime with both boys. Crafts, coloring, running, dance parties in the living room, prepping dinner for everyone (cutting raw chicken with a toddler running underfoot has become a specialty of mine), managing meltdowns, tears, lost pacifiers (...again...), watering plants, folding laundry, action figure battles, refills of coffee, and contemplating upping my count on Untappd during this timeframe.

5:40 pm - Ashley is home. According to the reaction of both of the small humans I have spent the better part of the day caring for, nurturing, feeding and playing with...now the day is good. Ingrates.

6:00 pm - dinnertime. Share stories at the dinner table. Kai takes the length of the director's cut of LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING to finish a grilled cheese sandwich. Eli may or may not have eaten his dinner and part of Ashley's.

7:20 pm - bathtime begins. Eli first, then Kai.

7:50 pm - time to read Kai to sleep while Ashley rocks Eli.

8:10 pm - both boys are down. Now Ashley & I can say hello to each other.

11:00 pm - after mindless TV (and/or falling asleep on the couch), we amble off to wash faces, brush teeth, and go to bed...to start the cycle anew come the morning.

1:20 am - ...crap. Eli's crying.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Opening Day

I've been staring at this bottle for some time now, turning it over and over again. The contents make a rattling sound, almost like rain. Or one of my one-year-old's toys.

The label - mostly white with warnings written on a background of blue - bears my name. It is designated for me. The vital information is printed in ALL CAPS, so it will get my attention. But it also bears my name in ALL CAPS, as if it were shouting to the world to see that it belongs to me. It's like holding a screaming toddler while waiting in line in a store: you know it is yours, you're doing your best to take care of it, but the glares and looks of disapproval really aren't helping the matter, perfect stranger who is judging me.

The bottle stands as a landmark of sorts. It was easier to just talk about my issues and problems. By only using words, they seemed hypothetical, almost abstract. But now? There's tangible proof before me that words once spoken now have been given shape, form, and substance. 

I'm not God and I didn't speak my problems into being. But now they have been given a name, and this name has power.

It's not the taking of the pills that worries me. This is a chemical imbalance. I'm dealing with a biological manifestation. Intellectually, I understand this. It's getting my heart on board with this idea that is the struggle.

It's not the concern that I will become dependent upon a "happy pill" to get me through the day. I'm not going to be brazen enough to state "Well, I could stop at any time," because I know the realities. If I go one day without my requisite 6-7 cups of coffee, I'm a beast in attitude and have the worst headache at the end of the day. Once these pills begin to enter my bloodstream and chemically regulate me, they - unlike my coffee - will be a necessary additive. Not an addiction.

I'm already addicted. I'm addicted to self-reliance, not being comfortable with admitting that I need help, with wanting to be seen as strong and reliant.

And this two-inch orange cylinder with the white cap on it shatters that idea. Because as soon as I take the first pill, I'm starting off on a journey. Again. One I thought I would not have to walk through once more, since it has been over a decade since I last was on antidepressants.

I've faked it quite well at times. I've pushed down, ignored, and supplanted the years of emotions with other things to focus when life kicked me repeatedly square in the teeth. But this year has been different. Too many loses, too many backhands from reality, too many tears.

And the fakery and ignoring the reality of my struggles has finally gotten to the point where I am too worn down to fight it any longer. I could handle it solo, but I have two beautiful, amazing sparkly-eyed boys that depend on me, and a spouse who I want to be the best for. So it is for them and in their name that I find the strength and courage to "push and turn" the cap.

Childproof. But not child-like faith proof. Because I'm taking these on faith.

The day I start taking these changes everything. I'm excited for the hope it brings me with the promise that they can help me...deal. That they can help me work on becoming me again. But they also bring a bit of anxiety: what happens if I miss one? What happens of they don't help the way I hope they do? What happens if people who I know are prone to judge find out I'm taking them?

Because it's not like I'm admitting online for the world to see that "Hey, I'm taking antidepressants," right?

Now.

Time to go refill my coffee mug so I'll have something to wash this down with.

And the curtain rises on a new beginning.